Standing up for freedom at UNESCO

Monday, February 25, 2013 | 8:02 PM

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The Internet is the world’s biggest economic and social success story of the past three decades, fueling free expression on an unprecedented scale. Built from the bottom-up, powered by the people, private business, technical experts, civil society groups and governments all have joined together to write an amazing narrative. Yet this construction is now under threat. Many governments want to impose government control over the Net, and many are attempting to use the United Nations to achieve this goal.



Fortunately, many parts of the UN are pushing back, and standing up for freedom. The UN’s Internet Government Forum brings together the various Internet actors and represents arguably, the key part of the Internet’s bottom-up structure. Another key UN ally is the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, which from February 25-27 is holding an important conference in Paris called World Summit on the Information Society +10.

Up to 800 representatives from governments, civil society and private business are attending UNESCO’s conference, which will review the state of Internet freedom in advance of a head-of-state event scheduled for 2015. Hundreds of others will participate from remote locations, thanks to Internet connections. Google is supporting the conference and will be participating in the various panels and debates.

Each session will produce a set of recommendations. A drafting group will distill the main points from the recommendations. Crucially, the final document will not be negotiated by governments but developed through an open-ended multi-stakeholder conference.

UNESCO itself has proved a steadfast ally in the battle to keep the Internet free and open. Each year, it sponsors the World Press Freedom Award. Last year, Google supported the event which took place in post-revolution Tunisia. Within the UN system, UNESCO supports the multi-stakeholder system, insisting that non-governmental organizations be consulted and engaged in Internet decision-making. We look forward to the debates this week in Paris and hope the results bolster the free and open Internet.

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